THE BLOG
07/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Free at Last, Free at Last. Or Not!

Could there be any more compelling commentary on America's loss of credibility among the international community then the inability of the Bush administration to find countries willing to accept Guantanamo prisoners who are scheduled for release because they have been judged by the U.S. military to have never had any ties to terrorism?

That was the question that bubbled up from last week's federal appeals court ruling that the U.S. military improperly labeled Huzaifa Parhat, a Chinese Muslim held at Guantanamo Bay for five years, an "enemy combatant" and ordered that he be released, transferred or granted a new hearing.

Parhat is one of seventeen Chinese Muslims imprisoned at GITMO. They are known as Uighurs, part of a Muslim minority from western China. They have been reliably reported to have been systematically persecuted by Chinese authorities.

Parhat's plight, of course, is a metaphor for a far larger problem. That problem includes not only Guantanamo prisoners, but thousands of Iraqis forced to flee their country to neighboring Jordan, Syria, and other locations in the Middle East.

And between these two groups, it is difficult to say which American failure has been most egregious.

Since the establishment of the GITMO detention facility, more than 770 people have been imprisoned there. Our president and his top lieutenants incessantly told us these people were "the worst of the worst" -- all were dangerous terrorists. The Bush Administration refused to review any of their cases.

Nonetheless, some 500 have been released. Most have been sent back to their home countries. There, many have been unconditionally freed by local authorities, a few have been detained, and a significant number has been enrolled in Saudi Arabia's highly secretive "re-education" program.

Our State Department says it is working hard to find countries willing to accept detainees scheduled for release. This is probably true. The Uighur experience is an example. To its credit, State refused to release these men to China, for fear that they would be jailed, persecuted, even executed. Finally, five Uighurs were released to -- wait for it! -- Albania, where they are confined to refugee camps, unable to speak the language and forbidden to work.

The refusal of so many countries to provide safe haven for these "cleared" prisoners provides a depressing illustration of our diminished credibility and our inability to persuade even those nations that are recipients of our substantial largesse.

What a change from October 1962! At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy sent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to brief French President Charles de Gaulle about this scariest of Cold War confrontations.

Acheson offered to show the French leader the U-2 reconnaissance photos that clearly showed Russian missile launchers in Cuba. De Gaulle waved them off and said, "No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me."

That may also have been true on September 12, 2001. But it's not true anymore. Thank you, President Bush.

As for the larger and more complex problem of Iraqi refugees, their situation has improved a bit but remains a national disgrace. The Associated Press reports that the number of Iraqi refugees admitted into the United States rose in June, crossing the halfway point on the Bush administration's goal of 12,000 by the end of September.

The State Department says 1,721 Iraqi refugees entered the country last month, up from 1,141 in May, the first time since 2003 that the Administration's target of 1,000 per month mark had been surpassed. In April, 974 Iraqis were admitted. The increase is said to be the result of a push to streamline the security vetting process by the departments of State and Homeland Security, which run the operation. How about Homeland Security and Streamlining for an oxymoron?

But even the 12,000 target is far lower than that of other many countries, and it's only a small slice of the two million Iraqi refugees. June's admissions brought the number of Iraqi refugees accepted in the U.S. to 6,463 since the current budget year began on Oct. 1. Those waiting include thousands of Iraqis who helped us as translators, drivers, and other grunt workers.

So the administration has three months to accept 5,537 more refugees to reach its goal of 12,000. Sweden has admitted about 40,000 since 2003.

Which reminds me that President Gerald Ford put his political capital on the line to bring some 130,000 Vietnamese to the United States, and that nearly a million more would be admitted in the years that followed.

The refugees were airlifted to relocation camps in the United States. Then, after undergoing security checks, they were matched by the State Department with U.S. churches, families and civic groups. "To do less," President Ford later recalled of his effort, "would have added moral shame to humiliation."

That, of course, was pre-9/11 - the date the Bush Administration will use to justify admittance to just about anyone because that horrendous day "changed everything."

As for Mr. Parhat and his fellow Uighurs who languish in virtual solitary confinement at Gitmo-by-the-Sea, the government says it is considering its legal options. But the likelihood of him going anywhere any time soon is doubtful, despite the appeals court ruling.

But I have an RSS -- Real Simple Solution -- here. The seventeen Uighurs at GITMO should be admitted to - and welcomed by - the United States. Even the Pentagon says they are a danger to no one. They could re-start their lives. Arguably, they could even contribute to American society.

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- I know it's a presidential election year. And I know immigration is a contentious issue. But surely we could handle an additional seventeen people. And surely we owe these people something for chopping five years out of their lives.

Giving them asylum in the U.S. would be a heartening illustration of Compassionate Conservatism in Action.

It would also be what the Lady in the Harbor would want us to do.

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